Spread word on a unique service

EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms, this week discusses a new mobile phone network that is being pioneered in Newham. He writes: THERE are five mobile phone networks in the UK. True or false? Of course it s true – almost everywhere. They are 3, O2, Orange, T-M

EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms, this week discusses a new mobile phone network that is being pioneered in Newham.

He writes:

THERE are five mobile phone networks in the UK. True or false?

Of course it's true - almost everywhere. They are 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone.


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However, it isn't true in Newham. In Newham - and so far only in Newham - we have a sixth network.

It's called UK01 and it started on March 13. It's available now in most of the borough. But, if you have a UK01 handset and you leave Newham, it stops working.

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Last week I met Magnus Kelly and Adam Sharples, the Watford-based entrepreneurs behind UK01, and they explained to me what they are doing.

UK01 (http://www.uk01.com) is a pay-as-you-go service for people who would otherwise buy calling cards for international calls.

The High Street is full of stalls doing a roaring trade in these cards. UK01 offers similar charges per minute for international calls - for example, 1p per minute for calls to India and the US.

And the network has big advantages over calling cards. With a mobile handset, people can call you back - and you can send and receive text messages too. Calls to other UK mobiles cost 8p per minute.

UK01 plans to provide handsets shortly which can have two SIM cards, so that the other SIM - on one of the major networks - can support calls made outside Newham.

The service started in Newham because so many people make international calls to keep in touch with family and friends. Later in the year, coverage will extend to Tower Hamlets and Redbridge, but the UK01 licence will allow it to operate throughout the country.

It is a full-scale mobile network. For example, it includes a 999 service, over which a number of emergency calls have already been made.

There are about 200 radio antennae supporting the service around the borough. They are much smaller than conventional mobile masts. Most are on private homes - for which the company pays the occupiers a small charge - but about 50 are on payphone kiosks provided by operators other than BT.

So far, the founders are very pleased with how well their service is doing. It is being sold mainly by word of mouth.

But they have one serious problem. Some other networks have set very high charges for calls to UK01 handsets. T-Mobile charges 43p per minute and Vodafone 40p per minute. (3 by contrast charges only 12p per minute.) The founders hope that the independent regulator Ofcom will force the other operators to make more reasonable charges.

As Minister for Telecommunications, I was on the receiving end of the first official call made via 3 when its service was introduced in 2003.

I have always been fascinated by telecommunications, and am intrigued that this service is unique to Newham.

I welcome this innovation - that Newham has been chosen as the pioneer, and that canny customers in the borough are taking it up so fast.

And I hope the company succeeds in obtaining a fair deal from the regulator for all its customers in Newham.

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